2007-07-11 / Opinion

Weed Whackers

by Alex McRae

They say if life hands you lemons, make lemonade. I guess if life hands you a drought, you should make sandwiches, heavy on the sand, which is plentiful these days.

But that's no cause for panic. It's not the first time Georgia has dried out. Georgia suffers a drought every few decades. The current dry spell is bad, but maybe not a record breaker. And things were really bad during a drought in the 1930s and 40s, probably part of the same weather system that created the "Dust Bowl" in the Midwest.

The Dust Bowl caused thousands of farmers to abandon their fields and head for California, where they became characters in John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath.

The situation was serious enough to require statewide water rationing. No one was exempt, which explains why, during a visit to Warm Springs, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had to get special permission to wash the First Car.

Things are bad now, but they'll get better. The only question is how creative you can be when the dry spell lingers.

A friend of mine remembers a time over half a century ago when a drought reduced the Chattahoochee River to a trickle between Coweta and Heard counties. Folks didn't panic. Instead, they planted turnips and collards in the river bed, which remained moist enough to sustain a good crop.

I'm not that creative, but in recent years, I've picked up a few tips for the next dry spell. When it finally hit, I thought I was ready. As usual, I was wrong.

I'd read somewhere that when the weather finally gets lawn-parching dry, it's best to quit cutting the grass. First, because bone-dry grass is tougher on mower blades. Second, because a spark from the old Snapper could set your yard on fire, followed by the neighborhood and, pretty soon, the entire free world.

Unfortunately, while drought withered what little grass I have, the weeds - which cover most of the yard - grew faster than ever. In fact, the weeds grew so fast they went to seed.

I didn't realize the weeds had given birth until I arrived home one day to discover my yard had turned black. At first, I thought I was the victim of a severely-localized wildfire. Then I saw the real problem: the yard was carpeted with crows.

What I didn't see were my cats. Normally when birds visit, the cats muster enough energy to waddle over and shoo them away. Not this time. It seemed to be a size problem, as in, the crows were huge, which explains why I found the cats huddled in a corner of the garage whimpering in fear. When a bird scares a 25-pound cat, you've got a problem. I searched for solutions.

A scarecrow seemed like a logical place to start, but our neighborhood covenants expressly forbid scarecrows, except on Halloween. I called a friend and asked for advice.

"Shoot 'em," he said. That didn't seem like a good idea, either, considering the proximity of other homes and small children.

I tried to imagine what the old-timers would have done and drew a blank. Then I remembered music is supposed to soothe a savage breast, so I figured it might aggravate a crow. I pulled out the boombox and put on an old favorite, jazz legend John Coltrane's recording of "Bye, Bye Blackbird."

The crows weren't fazed. In fact, after a few seconds, they were actually swaying to the music. Snoop Doggy Dogg's greatest hits didn't work either.

I realized I wouldn't solve the critter problem until the weeds - and seed - were gone. I can't have a scarecrow, but there's no neighborhood covenant against goats. I hope they can get along with the cats.

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